Ar­chi­tect of ‘M*A*S*H’ dies


Gene Reynolds, an Emmy-win­ning pro­ducer and di­rec­tor who was a force be­hind two of the most ac­claimed tele­vi­sion se­ries of the 1970s and early ’80s, “M*A*S*H” and “Lou Grant,” died Mon­day in Bur­bank. He was 96.

His wife, Ann Sweeny Reynolds, said the cause was heart fail­ure.

Gene Reynolds started his pro­lific ca­reer on the per­form­ing side of the cam­era, ap­pear­ing in some 80 films and tele­vi­sion shows, be­gin­ning when he was a child. He de­vel­oped an un­usual sort of spe­cialty: play­ing the younger ver­sions of char­ac­ters played by top film stars of the 1930s.

He was the ado­les­cent ver­sion of Don Ameche’s char­ac­ter in “Sins of Man” (1936), and of Ri­cardo Cortez’s char­ac­ter in “The Cal­i­for­nian” (1937), and of Ty­rone Pow­ers’ char­ac­ter in “In Old Chicago” (1938), among oth­ers. A break­through was when he played the young ver­sion of James Ste­wart’s char­ac­ter in “Of Hu­man Hearts” (1938), an MGM movie that earned him a con­tract with that stu­dio.

Reynolds racked up dozens more TV and film act­ing cred­its, in­clud­ing more than 40 in the 1950s, but by the end of that decade he had shifted his fo­cus to di­rect­ing and, soon af­ter that, to pro­duc­ing.

In the 1960s, he di­rected nu­mer­ous episodes of tele­vi­sion come­dies, in­clud­ing “Ho­gan’s He­roes” and “F Troop,” both of which found hu­mor and ab­sur­dity in mil­i­tary set­tings. That ex­pe­ri­ence served him well in 1972, when, at the in­sti­ga­tion of the pro­ducer Wil­liam Self, he helped Larry Gel­bart de­velop “M*A*S*H,” the sit­com about an Army hos­pi­tal dur­ing the Korean War. (Robert Alt­man’s film, based on Richard Hooker’s novel, had come out two years ear­lier.)

The se­ries, ad­dress­ing se­ri­ous themes with a mix of slap­stick and dark hu­mor, is still con­sid­ered one of the finest in tele­vi­sion his­tory. Its fi­nal episode, in 1983, set a rat­ings record. By then, though, Reynolds had moved on and al­ready had an­other ac­claimed se­ries to his credit: “Lou Grant,” which he helped cre­ate in 1977, the year he left “M*A*S*H.”

The show, about a fic­tional news­pa­per, with Ed As­ner as the ti­tle char­ac­ter, twice won the Emmy Award for out­stand­ing drama se­ries.

Reynolds di­rected episodes of each of those se­ries (in­clud­ing the first episodes of both), win­ning two Em­mys him­self for out­stand­ing di­rec­tion of a com­edy for “M*A*S*H.” He won six Em­mys in all, in­clud­ing one for “M*A*S*H” for best com­edy se­ries and one for an ear­lier show he de­vel­oped, “Room 222,” which was named out­stand­ing new se­ries of 1969-70.

One of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments of “M*A*S*H” that he di­rected was not a spe­cific episode, but the open­ing se­quence, which shows two he­li­copters land­ing at the med­i­cal unit, pre­sum­ably with ca­su­al­ties aboard.

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